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film review

The holiday season is stacked with new releases, including Little Women, Uncut Gems, Spies in Disguise, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Bombshell and Cats

63 Up

ITV / Courtesy of Mongrel Media

  • Directed by Michael Apted
  • Classification N/A; 180 minutes


4 out of 4 stars

Few films and books leave an indelible impression like Michael Apted’s Up project, which is back with the ninth instalment of the filmmaker’s every-seven-years chat with 14 boys and girls that started in 1964. 63 Up is a melancholy exercise, partially because Apted, now 78, has suggested this is the last one. Some have suggested the series is the original reality show. In the end, the viewer will see what they want to see both on the screen and in their own lives. (Opens Dec. 20 in Toronto and Vancouver)

Little Women

Wilson Webb/Sony Pictures

  • Directed by Greta Gerwig
  • Written by Greta Gerwig, based on the novel by Louisa May Alcott
  • Starring Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh and Emma Watson
  • Classification PG; 134 minutes


4 out of 4 stars

After seven movie adaptations over a century, this particular Little Women is sublime, better than Lady Bird even. Needless to say, Gerwig’s second feature – a breathlessly modern, urgent adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 novel with a cast of Saoirse Ronan (Jo), Florence Pugh (Amy), Emma Watson (Meg) and Eliza Scanlen (Beth) playing the March sisters – lives up to the mammoth expectations placed upon the actress-turned-auteur. (Opens Dec. 25)

Uncut Gems

Courtesy of A24

  • Directed by Benny Safdie and Josh Safdie
  • Starring Adam Sandler, Julia Fox and Kevin Garnett
  • Classification R; 135 minutes


4 out of 4 stars

Every now and then, Adam Sandler grows up. He trades in his oversized tees and basketball shorts and looks for material and collaborators who challenge his (sincerely) wide range, instead of yes-men who flatter his long-in-the-tooth man-boy shtick. A 135-minute anxiety attack disguised as a movie, Uncut Gems is a gritty and unrelenting masterpiece – a thrilling and deeply dirty ode to not only a sub-genre of scum cinema and drippy-filth purveyors that the New York Safdie brothers grew up idolizing (Abel Ferrara and Al Goldstein loom large), but an aggressive tribute to the fuming rage and stunted potential of the Sandman himself. (Opens Dec. 25 at the TIFF Lightbox in Toronto, Dec. 26 at the Cinema Moderne in Montreal, Jan. 3 in Ottawa, Jan. 10 in Calgary and Edmonton and Jan. 17 in Vancouver and Victoria)

Nomad: In the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin

BBC Scotland

  • Directed by Werner Herzog
  • Classification N/A; 85 minutes


3.5 out of 4 stars

If you must be given a crash course in the life and works of the late Bruce Chatwin, there’s nobody better than his good friend, Werner Herzog, to teach it – especially if you’re a fan of Herzog’s work as well. But if you’re not? Well, this is where you channel their adventurous spirits and submerge yourself in the stories and experiences that came to define Chatwin’s legacy. Before succumbing to AIDS in 1989, the In Patagonia author gave Herzog his rucksack. And now, 30 years later, the director uses it as a gateway into storytelling, taking it with him as he revisits the worlds Chatwin found so fascinating in his documentary Nomad: In the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin. (Opens Dec. 20 in Toronto)


Photo Credit: Universal Pictures/Universal Pictures

  • Directed by Sam Mendes
  • Written by Sam Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns
  • Starring George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman
  • Classification R; 118 minutes


3 out of 4 stars

As more and more films are sent through the direct-to-streaming pipeline, it has become something of a cliché for directors to tell audiences that, no, really, my film needs to be seen on the big screen. But Sam Mendes’s First World War thriller 1917 is indeed a cinematic experience that demands the largest canvas possible. Structured as a real-time, one-continuous-shot narrative – although there are a few obvious cheats along the way – 1917 follows two young British soldiers (George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman) as they embark on an unenviable task: crossing no man’s land in Northern France to deliver a battalion-saving message. (Opens Dec. 25 in Toronto before expanding to theatres across the country Jan. 10)

A Hidden Life

Reiner Bajo/Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

  • Written and directed by Terrence Malick
  • Starring August Diehl and Valerie Pachner
  • Classification PG; 184 minutes


3 out of 4 stars

A nearly three-hour look at the resistance of Austrian farmer Franz Jagerstatter (August Diehl), a conscientious objector to serving Hitler in the Second World War, Terrence Malick’s A Hidden Life is timely although not profoundly new territory. Again the director finds a compelling landscape, a paradise under invasion, and again finds his narrative, such as it is, hooked on a question of faith (that is, are men created to do wrong?). There is familiarity here, but sincerity too. (Opens Dec. 20 in Toronto)

The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmao

Canal Brasil

  • Directed by Karim Ainouz
  • Written by Murilo Hauser, based on the book by Martha Batalha
  • Starring Carol Duarte and Julia Stockler
  • Classification R; 139 minutes


3 out of 4 stars

It’s easy to get lost in the textural cinematography of Brazilian director Karim Ainouz’s feminist drama The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmao. Interrogating the sensual tapestry of mid-century Rio de Janeiro, from its oppressive heat, almost visible on screen, to the city’s own jagged juxtaposition of urban jungle, cinematographer Hélène Louvart builds an impressive visual landscape for this plaintive story of two vivacious, determined sisters kept apart by the rigid social mores and patriarchal rule of the country in the early 1950s. (Opens Dec. 20 in Toronto)

Spies in Disguise

Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp

  • Directed by Nick Bruno and Troy Quane
  • Written by Brad Copeland and Lloyd Taylor
  • Featuring the voices of Will Smith and Tom Holland
  • Classification PG; 101 minutes


2.5 out of 4 stars

If a movie fulfilling the promise of its premise makes it successful, then Spies in Disguise is a success. The setup is that Will Smith voices the world’s foremost secret agent, who is transformed into a pigeon, and the payoff is that Will Smith voices the world’s foremost secret agent, who is transformed into a pigeon. The latest release from Blue Sky Studios, the company behind the Ice Age and Rio films, follows the unlikely duo of James Bond-esque super-spy Lance Sterling (Smith) and awkward tech prodigy Walter Beckett (Tom Holland). (Opens Dec. 25)


Hilary B Gayle/Lionsgate

  • Directed by Jay Roach
  • Written by Charles Randolph
  • Starring Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie
  • Classification R; 108 minutes


2 out of 4 stars

Let’s face it: Bombshell, the movie about the women who brought down Fox News CEO Roger Ailes, has a marketing problem. Moviegoers inclined to cheer on crusading female broadcasters as they crush sexual harassment are probably not Fox viewers, while Fox viewers who might be expected to value these television hosts are probably not inclined to cheer on social crusaders. Perhaps it’s that conundrum that explains why Bombshell is so ambivalent and tepid as it attempts to fashion a tick-tock thriller from Ailes’s downfall. (Opens Dec. 20)

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker


  • Directed by J.J. Abrams
  • Written by J.J. Abrams and Chris Terrio
  • Starring Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver and Oscar Isaac
  • Classification PG; 141 minutes


2 out of 4 stars

A wary and broken hero searching for the truth about their family. A ragtag group of rebels facing impossible odds. An all-knowing hooded figure with a nefarious plan. Bickering droids. Alien critters that are ready-for-Christmas cute. So much of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is pulled from what has come before, and so much of it carries the wear and tear of repetition. (Opens Dec. 20)

The Song of Names

Sabrina Lantos/Courtesy of Elevation

  • Directed by François Girard
  • Written by Jeffrey Caine, based on the novel by Norman Lebrecht
  • Starring Tim Roth, Clive Owen and Catherine McCormack
  • Classification: PG; 113 minutes


2 out of 4 stars

In postwar London, a Jewish violin prodigy rescued from Poland by a British impresario disappears on the night of his professional debut, thereby ruining the man who saved him. Thirty-five years later, the impresario’s son Martin sees a student ape one of Dovidl’s mannerisms and so begins a historical detective story. The Song of Names has a strong premise (from the novel by Norman Lebrecht) and poignant musical conclusion (the score is by Howard Shore) but a plodding middle. (Opens Dec. 25)


Universal Pictures

  • Directed by Tom Hooper
  • Written by Tom Hooper and Lee Hall
  • Starring Francesca Hayward, Judi Dench and Jennifer Hudson
  • Classification PG; 110 minutes


0.5 out of 4 stars

If you were worried that Tom Hooper’s musical adaptation of Cats wouldn’t live up to the wild uncanny-valley promise of the trailer, rest assured, it does. These are live-action cats with the poorly VFX’d faces of celebrities who only sometimes act like cats, and the resulting effect is not what God intended for this world. (Opens Dec. 20)

Also: What’s new and noteworthy to stream

Earthquake Bird is a psychological drama.Murray Close

Three streaming films to keep on your radar this weekend: Fast Color on Crave, Booksmart on Amazon Prime Video and American Made on Netflix. Read Barry Hertz’s reviews of the films here.

This weekly guide was compiled by Lori Fazari, with reviews from Anne T. Donahue, Barry Hertz, Chandler Levack, Amil Niazi, Stephen Rodrick, Anna Swanson and Kate Taylor.